New EPA rule expected to affect Texas oil industry emissions
Tuesday, December 5, 2023
A new rule issued by the Environmental Protection Agency could reduce the amount of methane escaping from equipment in Texas oil fields.
Last Saturday, the EPA finalized a long-anticipated climate regulation meant to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations.
Virginia Palacios, executive director of the advocacy organization Commission Shift, is focused on reforming the Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency overseeing the oil and gas industry. For several years, her group has argued against companies' requests for rule exceptions.
"Almost every single meeting, we have at least one or two of the commissioners saying something to the operators about how they should 'do better on venting and flaring,' but then they just go right ahead and approve the flaring rule exception request," Palacios pointed out.
She noted the most recent example occurred at a September meeting, when one commissioner chastised a Houston-based company for flaring natural gas at a drilling site, but nonetheless approved its permit. Since the commission launched a database to track exceptions in May 2021, Palacios reported only 44 applications were shown to be denied, while more than 8,000 were approved.
The EPA's new rule, announced at the COP28 climate meeting, aims to cut methane emissions by requiring equipment upgrades and regular leak inspections. Still, Palacios expects Texas to sue the federal government over the change. She explained her group formed because of what she describes as a big gap in the environmental movement in Texas.
"We want the Railroad Commission to provide a real service to the people of Texas," Palacios emphasized. "And for the people of Texas to be able to meaningfully engage with the commission to have their needs met and to have their public health protected and their natural resources protected."
The EPA said the new rule would allow oil and gas companies greater flexibility to use innovative and cost-effective methane detection technologies. Data shows Texas is by far the largest oil-producing state in the United States.
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